When Debra Monce went into the bathroom stall of the Clarion Hotel in Tampa last Friday and sat down to conduct one of life’s biological functions, she certainly didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
That said, when she squatted the small-caliber handgun she was carrying fell out of its holster, hit the ground, and went off.
The single bullet went into the next stall. Janifer Bliss — ironically at the hotel for a women’s health conference — was hit by the bullet in the lower leg. Monce, who has a concealed carry permit, now faces the possibility of being charged by the state attorney’s office. She will also probably suffer from a lifetime of jokes involving the phrases “crap shoot” or “shooting someone in the head.”
As bizarre as this accidental restroom shooting was, similarly notable incidents involving the legal concealed carry of firearms happen more often you might think — including at least one other toilet-related incident in the past six months.
A Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Centerville, Utah, became the butt of jokes (sorry, couldn’t resist) in mid-January when a man attempting to use a toilet also had a nasty discharge of the potentially lethal kind. Like in the Tampa incident, the concealed handgun carrier had his gun in an open-top holster, and when he sat on the toilet, the gun slipped out of the holster and fired when it slammed into the tile floor. Though no other patron was injured by the bullet, the concealed carry permit holder in this incident was injured by shards of flying porcelain from the toilet he destroyed.
The restaurant, having a warped sense of humor, conducted a funeral service for the departed throne, appropriately named “John.” While both incidents are odd and amusing (to everyone other than the injured), they are anecdotal data points of a very real and potentially growing problem of a society that has the right to carry concealed weapons, but not the training to carry them responsibly.
As concealed carry permits become more common and the number of permit holders continues to grow, there will logically be a greater number of firearms carried outside of the home. In general this is a good thing, as those states and municipalities that have concealed carry laws typically have lower violent crime rates than those areas that severely limit their citizens’ right to defend themselves. That said, an unfortunate side effect of having more guns “out and about” in society is that there has been a corresponding rise in the number of people who have acted negligently with their firearms.
Some have dropped their weapon, as we saw in the cases above. Some have chosen to carry their handgun off-body in a purse, briefcase, or pack and then momentarily leave it where others can access it, with predictably grim results.
And it has been documented all too often that many gun owners — and not just those with carry permits — leave firearms “hidden” in places where little hands find them. Those who carry firearms on a regular basis sometimes seem to forget that it is not a benign accessory such as a cell phone or wallet that poses no threat. I’ve personally witnessed a carry permit holder come home from a day’s work and place his wallet, keys, and holstered gun on the bar in his kitchen … even though he has two small children at home, aged seven and four.
These people rationalize that they have told their children and other family members that guns are dangerous and that they should never touch them, for any reason. These are the exact same people who complain that their kids don’t listen. It’s a logical disconnect a mile wide that common sense and education should be able to correct.
I’ve been carrying a concealed weapon since May of last year. It has not become second nature, and I do not sometimes forget that I am carrying. You can’t slap two pounds of steel, polymer, and lead on your hip and not feel it, and if you can’t respect the weapon you carry, you shouldn’t be carrying it. My pistol isn’t a distraction now, but I’ve found I’m always more alert, more responsible, and more polite when I’m armed. That’s the way it should be and generally is for most carry permit holders, a class of the citizenry that is among the most responsible and law-abiding groups in our society.
That said, there is room for improvement with how we train permit holders — small, important loopholes in our training that are not covered in any class that we are left to our own devices to sort out on our own. Perhaps if our two toilet shooters had simply been told to keep a steadying hand on the butt of their firearm while using the bathroom, or if they had been encouraged to use holsters with a thumb-break strap, then their unfortunate negligent discharges would never have occurred. Perhaps we need to ask those companies that manufacture concealed off-body holsters in portfolios, purses, and briefcases to go the extra mile to incorporate the same kind of retention devices police duty holsters typically employ to deny or complicate access to unauthorized users. Perhaps instructors should dissuade their use entirely.
As a culture, we are moving towards a more gun-friendly society where concealed carry is becoming far more commonplace. But as favorably as concealed carry laws have been received and implemented and as more citizens have chosen to arm themselves, we need to be aware that there are simple realities of carrying a weapon that are not presently being taught in concealed carry courses. Most concealed carry courses focus on covering the law, discussing hypothetical situations, and displaying a basic level of proficiency and marksmanship.
I have neither seen nor read of instructors who place a significant amount of time on how to actually carry a concealed weapon in society. Most permit holders are left to figure out the details completely on their own, and as these scattered reports indicate, often without satisfactory results.
A recent surge in gun and ammunition sales and increases in carry permit applications have proven Americans are increasingly choosing to be an armed culture. Now that we’ve made that decision, we need to focus more time and effort in finding ways to ensure that those among us who carry do so responsibly — and get the training in the actual carrying of weapons that seems to be so often lacking.